About the 1950s


The 1950's began with Britain still recovering from the war years, rationing had only just been phased out and factories were returning to full pre-war production. Women were encouraged to return to being homemakers and looking after children and husbands. Fashion reflected this and became more feminine in style and silhouette. Pretty fabrics in colours not seen in the war emerged and the influence of American fashion took hold. Christian Dior was the main designer of the early part of the decade and he dictated many dress styles predominately the 'hourglass' look, with a nipped in waist , emphasized bust line and hips, either in a sleek fitted or a fuller skirt. A fitted jacket was a 'must' and a neatly tied scarf and small hat completed the outfit. Dior created many styles for women in the 1950s, the A, H, and Y line dresses that meant women could relate their figure shape to a style that suited them. Young women would still look like their mothers; an individual style had not yet been developed.

Fabrics such as Rayon and Crepe were used for most of the 'drape' style dresses and those with a bias cut; but cotton became the favourite fabric for the new large full skirts, blouses and dresses. Coats were made in wool and new styles in rainwear appeared for women in the modern showerproof fabrics.

A more relaxed approach to fashion came with Coco Chanel returning to designing to produce looser more comfortable clothes in knitted yarns in 1954. The boyish look had begun and women who wanted more liberation after the war could buy fashion that challenged the pre-war look.

The Festival of Britain in 1951 showed the best of new designers and ideas. The Skylon tower represented the space age look that was to come. Lucienne Day's furnishing fabric 'Calyx' began a revolution in fabric design; the modern era had begun and new synthetic fabrics appeared, meaning cheaper clothing that was easier to wash and dry. Fabric designs reflected the new age of technology and science, inspiring patterns created from biological and chemical sources.

Women wore day dresses in lightweight materials and bold patterns, wide belts and white hats and gloves defined the 'Sunday best' look. The predominant style for youngsters was a full skirt or dress with a very full net petticoat underneath; the new dance craze of rock and roll needed more freedom for dancers to move and 'pedal pushers' Capri style trousers and the big skirts meant some of the more daring moves could be carried out.

It became fashionable to go out in the evenings as leisure time increased; cocktail parties were popular and women wore knee length dresses in satin, silk, tulle and embellished with lace, bows, sequins and corsages. Later evening events required long gowns in similar fabrics, with deeply cut necklines, strapless, backless or off shoulder styles. Corsetry was made with new elastic fabrics and fibres and meant a new freedom for women when choosing their underwear. A new synthetic fibre: Nylon was available in garments and was much desired as it required less laundering techniques.

In 1957, French designer Hubert Givenchy designed the 'Sack' a straight waistless shift dress that was to inspire Mary Quant in the sixties and give rise to a revolution in dress shape.

The 'trapeze' dress was designed by Yves Saint Laurent in 1958 and its fluid loose fitting style became desired by the majority of women as it freed them from fitted dress styles and heavy corsetry.

A new era of fashion was heralded by women looking to the USA for ideas, Britain was beginning to rebuild after the war and factories returned to their pre-war production. New bright printed fabrics appeared and 'separates' as well as dresses became bright and fun; with some unusual and gimmicky prints and colours. Early rock and roll motifs adorned skirts and tops, bobby sox and sneakers made life fun for teenagers, jeans were must haves in girls wardrobes, whether imitating the American style or worn with big fluffy jumpers 'Beatnik' style.

Marks and Spencer reflected the new freedom in shopping trends and sold affordable high street styles for women, the latest Orlon jumpers could be purchased to go with trousers and skirts; in a Britain that was not yet centrally heated, the rather warm synthetic fibres were quite a welcome invention.

Makeup companies such as Max Factor and Coty were flourishing and Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor along with American film stars inspired a fresher and younger look. A generation of young people found themselves setting the trends and no longer looked like copies of their parents; the cult of youth had begun.